Despite missing a lot of practice time during the week, Sapp was able to start Sunday, but only after some extra rehabilitation with the trainer and an impassioned plea from Coach Jon Gruden. Sapp injured his lower back during Wednesday's practice and experienced spasms that kept him out of workouts. It was touch and go whether he would play. ``I told him you have the keys to my car and my wallet,'' Gruden said. ``I can't go anywhere without you.'' That was all Sapp needed to hear. Sapp recovered a fumble in the third quarter and finished with two tackles.
TE Ken Dilger was shaken up early in the second quarter and left the game momentarily with bruised ribs. WR Keyshawn Johnson was taken to the locker room in the middle of the third quarter with a rib contusion, but was able to return. RT Kenyatta Walker suffered a right ankle sprain and CB Ronde Barber fractured his left thumb in the third quarter, but also returned.
Keyshawn Johnson's second-quarter touchdown was his 13th as a Buc, moving him into a tie for ninth place in franchise history with Courtney Hawkins. QB Brad Johnson's 1-yard TD pass to Keyshawn Johnson and 22-yard scoring toss to McCardell moved him past Shaun King for sixth place in franchise history with 26 TD passes.
Coming into Sunday’s game, the Buccaneers had allowed just one passing touchdown over their last eight games. However, the Panthers reached the end zone on a 20-yard Steve Smith reception in the first quarter, which also served to give Carolina its first opening-drive score of the season.
Tampa Bay’s first scoring drive of the game was their longest touchdown march of the season. It lasted 13 plays and 6:23, new season longs, covered 86 yards, tying a TD drive from the Minnesota game on 11/3.
The Bucs’ defense continued two impressive streaks on Sunday. DE Greg Spires’ first-quarter sack extended the team’s streak to 54 consecutive games with at least one sack. That’s the longest current streak in the NFL. CB Brian Kelly’s second-quarter interception, the Bucs’ league-leading 19th of the year, gave Tampa at least one pick in 14 straight games. The team record is 15, set over the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Martin Gramatica’s 20-yard field goal in the second quarter tied the game at 10-10 and also put him past another career milestone. Gramatica had 399 points before that kick, and he became just the third player in team history to get to 400 when it went through. K Donald Igwebuike had 416 points and all-time Buc scoring leader Michael Husted had 502.
An interesting note continued for the Buccaneers with the victory. Tampa Bay is now 5-0 this season when it wins the coin toss, and 27-11 over the last five years in that situation.